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Online Master’s in Education in Illinois: Best of 2024

Do you want to begin or advance your educational career in the state of Illinois? Working in education starts with becoming educated, and an online master’s program is an excellent way to earn your degree.

Author: Stephen Porritt

Editor: Staff Editor

Panoramic view of cloud gate, also known as "the bean," a mirrored sculpture reflecting chicago's skyline, set against a clear blue sky in millennium park.

There are quite a few professions in the field of education, and many of those careers actually require a college education. That doesn’t need to be a barrier to entry, though, even for jobs that require a master’s degree. In fact, with the right program, it can be surprisingly easy to earn a master’s in education online in Illinois and prepare for a new career.

Use this guide to discover some of the best schools and programs in Illinois, and learn more about promising professions, how to pursue a new or different career in education, and what to expect in the process.

Unveiling the Top Online MEd Programs in Illinois

We’ll kick things off with a look at the leading schools offering online master’s programs for education professionals in Illinois. Surprisingly, a wealth of options are available to Illinois students looking to make the most of online learning. In fact, some of the most prestigious schools in the state offer online-only versions of one or more of their most valuable education degrees. Let’s take a look.

Illinois State University (ISU)

Logo of Illinois State University featuring a red and white emblem with a shield, a book, and the year 1857, encircled by the university's name.

ISU’s campus, located in Normal, Illinois, boasts retention and graduation rates in the top 10% in the country, and has been repeatedly included in lists of top schools for its value vs cost and return on investment. This leading public university offers an impressive list of online programs, with 10 fully online master’s in education.

Specializations include subject-specific, special education, and administration. Tuition rates are as low as $422.57 per credit hour for in-state graduate students, and the university provides a number of graduate funding options, including graduate assistantships.

Northern Illinois University (NIU)

Logo of Northern Illinois University featuring a stylized castle turret in black and red with the text "Northern Illinois University" and the initials "NIU" underneath.

ISU isn’t the only public university in the state with strong online offerings. While NIU has a smaller selection for students seeking a master’s in education and related fields, their online graduate programs include some of the most popular degrees. Beyond that, their support services for online grad students help make it as easy as possible to earn your education wherever you happen to be.

NIU offers five online-only master’s programs in education, with specializations in elementary education, art teaching, educational research, instructional technology, and school business management. Tuition costs per credit hour vary, but there’s no “out-of-state” tuition. Education programs range from $445/credit hour to $530/credit hour.

The university is home to a wealth of student support services, including academic advising, career development, technology and disability resources, and more.

Eastern Illinois University (EIU)

Our third top listing for Illinois universities is also the least expensive. EIU comes in at just $335.85 per credit hour for in-state students, and border states qualify. Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, and Wisconsin residents can all benefit from in-state pricing when pursuing their master’s degree. Plus, with six fully online education master’s programs, lower cost doesn’t mean limited selection.

Specializations for education students include subjects like math, music, history, and art, as well as focus areas in curriculum/instruction and special education. EIU offers a variety of financial aid and assistance options, including graduate assistantships, payment plans, and more.

In-Demand Education Careers in Illinois

Educational jobs sometimes have a reputation for being high in demand but low in earning potential. Although that can be the case, a little research and career planning can help you discover where your advanced degree can mean a bigger paycheck in your specialization. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few common education careers and their job outlook in Illinois.

Special Education

While some students are better suited to standardized school systems, others have “non-standard” learning needs that are now being more fully recognized. Special education professionals play a critical role in helping these students achieve their learning goals.

While not every role in special education requires a master’s degree, the skills and strategies used to assist students with special needs are different. Even if you are already working in the specialized area, an online master’s in special education in Illinois will improve your opportunities for employment and growth.

Job Title IL Median Salary
(2022)
IL Employment
(2020)
Projected Growth
(2020-30)
Special Ed, Preschool $62,470 410 5%
Special Ed, Elementary $62,740 10,990 3%
Special Ed, Other $60, 220 990 6%

Source: O*NET OnLine

Teachers

Discussing education careers without mentioning teachers specifically is a little like discussing engineering careers without talking about engineers. Teachers are always in demand, so one way to virtually ensure employability is to become a licensed teacher where you live. And with online master’s degrees, becoming a teacher in Illinois is easier than ever before.

A master’s degree in teaching has a lot of advantages over a bachelor’s. First, graduates who didn’t earn their licensure can often achieve it more easily by choosing the correct online master’s program. This means that experts in a specific subject (like math, English, science, and music), or graduates from other states looking to move to Illinois, can simplify the transition to a teaching career.

Additionally, earning an online master’s degree can broaden employment opportunities. Teachers who may currently only qualify to work at the elementary level, for example, can earn a master’s degree to qualify for secondary and post-secondary instruction.

Job Title IL Median Salary
(2022)
IL Employment
(2020)
Projected Growth
(2020-30)
Elementary School Teachers $62,190 54,470 3%
Secondary/High School Teachers $63,050 40,040 3%
Postsecondary Teachers $61,870 3,640 3%

Source: O*NET OnLine

Education Administrators

When you think about jobs for education degree grads, you probably think of teachers — the professionals who have direct interactions with students. That makes sense, but there are other roles you may want to consider. Education administrators serve in support and leadership roles that keep a learning institution running.

Principals, superintendents, instructional designers, and quite a few other careers fall into this category. What most of them have in common is they require a master’s degree, and some (like superintendents) require a doctorate. In other words, for Illinois residents who aspire to administrative jobs in education, getting an online master’s degree is a smart idea.

Job Title IL Median Salary
(2022)
IL Employment
(2020)
Projected Growth
(2020-30)
Administrators, Kindergarten/Secondary $102,230 11,760 3%
Administrative Services Managers $102,780 18,140 9%
Education Administrators, Postsecondary $78,950 9,670 3%

Source: O*NET OnLine

How to Become an Illinois Educator

Step 1: Choose a Specialization

Becoming an education professional in Illinois starts with choosing a discipline. There are no true “generalists” in this field — even elementary teachers need to qualify and be certified to teach in primary schools. That said, earning a postgraduate degree can help widen your qualifications and job prospects, especially if your undergraduate studies already prepared you to fill certain educational roles.

Whether you’ve already worked in education, are just getting started, or are looking to transition from a different industry, you’ll be best served by picking a clear target for your intended future role. That will make both finding the right degree program, and qualifying for any needed licensure much simpler.

Step 2: Earn Your Online Master's Degree

With this step, we’re assuming that either have a bachelor’s degree or are planning your postgraduate studies in tandem with your undergraduate degree. Either way, you’ll want to carefully choose and pursue a reputable online education master’s program in Illinois that fits your budget and includes licensure in Illinois if needed.

Keep in mind that many education roles qualify you for public service loan forgiveness programs, making FAFSA loans a bit less onerous should you need to supplement your tuition.

Step 3: Gain Field Experience

Depending on your background, this step may be less of a concern. If you’ve already had some teaching experience, earned a license, or otherwise worked in the field, you may not need much more field experience to reach your goals. For those new to education roles, you’ll likely need some hands-on learning, especially in the case of teaching licensure where a certain number of hours performing classroom instruction is a foundational requirement.

In some cases you can even be paid to meet requirements for both your degree and license with teaching assistantships.

Step 4: Pass Your Illinois State Exams

Illinois primarily uses the edTPA (Teacher Performance Assessment) as its licensure requirement for qualifying educators. There are content-specific tests, as well as pathways designed around state-approved programs and out-of-state equivalents. But for most education professionals (except professionals working in counseling, psychology, etc., which have their own licensing requirements), you’ll take the edTPA if an exam is required.

Step 5: Earn Your Teaching Credentials

In addition to required exams, teaching endorsements in Illinois require a bachelor’s degree or higher from a regionally accredited institution, proof of completion of a state approved program, student teaching or equivalent experience, and completion of specific coursework relevant to the career, such as reading methods, content area material, and methods of teaching.

The state also has very robust reciprocity with out-of-state programs, making it a smooth transition for education professionals that are newcomers to Illinois.

The Cost of a Master’s in Education in Illinois

When discussing the costs of earning a master’s in education online in Illinois, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, as mentioned above, there are a lot of resources available to help ease the financial burden. Educators are always in demand, and most classify as public service professions, so there tend to be plenty of incentives, reimbursements, and even loan forgiveness programs on offer.

Second, Illinois, education degrees tend to be on the less expensive side with regard to tuition costs, even at the master’s level. At universities where prices vary based on area of study, education is almost always near the lower end of the tuition scale.

Third, online programs tend to be more flexible than traditional ones. Even when offered by traditional universities, online programs provide increased flexibility to pace your studies as time and budget require. How much flexibility and options for payment plans vary by institution, but online learning can cost less than studying on campus. Let’s look at a few programs and estimated costs.

School Program No. of Credits Est. Tuition
University of Illinois Springfield MA in Education 36 $11,286
Western Illinois University MS Ed in Educational Studies 33 $12,372.69
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Master of Education (MEd) 32 $16,320

Illinois Financial Aid Options for Education Majors

As this guide shows, education degrees are among the most affordable and financially accessible postgraduate programs. Standard financial aid opportunities apply to online education master’s students as do scholarships and grants, and public service-related loan forgiveness, where applicable. But since these are graduate programs, there are also fellowships, teaching assistantships, and even a host of Illinois-specific programs to help new teachers, administrators, and other education professionals complete programs and fill vacant roles.

If cost is a major factor when deciding if, where, and in what field to earn a master’s degree, it’s difficult to argue against online education master’s programs in Illinois.

FAQs from Illinois Education Master’s Students

Is an online education degree a worthwhile investment in Illinois?

In short, yes. Compared to other degree programs, education degrees tend to be less expensive on average. Illinois institutions often offer “in-state” pricing to neighboring states. And online programs limit expenses by allowing you to study where you are, rather than forcing you to attend campus.

Beyond limiting expenses, education professionals are in high demand in Illinois, so opportunities for employment, growth, and advancement are abundant, with educators holding postgraduate degrees benefiting the most.

Are education master’s only for people who want to become teachers?

No. While most education master’s programs in Illinois make it easy for graduates to qualify for teaching licensure, many of them also extend their employment options to other areas, including leadership, administration, support, instructional development, and more. In fact, graduates can easily pivot from traditional primary, secondary, and postsecondary education roles to careers outside of the school system. Adult education, instructional roles tied to specific business or industry use cases, and more, are all possible.

Does Illinois offer any regional programs for educators?

Illinois offers a lot of programs, incentives, and resources for up-and-coming educators. In addition to some of the programs mentioned above, there are hosts of scholarships, statewide programs, and other initiatives helping close the gap and meet the current demand for educators. Many of these opportunities are tied to specific educational disciplines, so as you finalize your selection of school and program, be sure to reach out to the institution for the most effective guidance on these initiatives.

Can I legally work in Illinois if I am credentialed as an educator in another state?

Absolutely. Illinois has a robust reciprocity system to facilitate out-of-state educators who want to relocate and transfer their license. In fact, there are even pathways for out-of-state professionals who are trained but not licensed, and for educators who earned their license in another country.

Can I earn a graduate certificate in education?

Yes. In fact, the majority of graduate programs (degrees, certificates, etc.) include or provide options for licensure. Fully online programs in Illinois offer the proper qualifications, which is not necessarily the case for other states in the country. Beyond that, a large number of institutions offer microcredentials, which are sub-specializations that can be added on to a degree program in preparation for a particular role.